The Dark Side of Job-Sponsored Student Loan Payments

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Picture graduating from college and landing a job that offers a good salary, health benefits, a retirement package — and your employer will help pay off your student loans.

More and more companies are jumping on this bandwagon, sponsoring benefit programs to help repay their employees’ student loans. With student loan debt ballooning to more than $1.5 trillion, the benefits of student loan repayment assistance are clear on both ends: Employers get the leverage they need to attract and retain millennial talent, and new hires find professional advancement and help on their student debt.

But there is one drawback: Under the current tax laws, employer student loan repayment is taxable. Like your paycheck, it’s counted as income and subject to income tax, meaning there could be tax consequences of an employer paying student loan debt.

Does this mean that accepting student loan help isn’t worth it? Not necessarily. Offsetting the tax burden may be possible with smart student loan decisions, and some proposed congressional legislation may eventually allow companies to contribute tax-free to help employees repay their student loans.

Let’s take a look at:

How job-sponsored student loan payments work

Currently, only 8% of companies offer employer student loan repayment assistance, but that’s up from just 4% a year ago, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Companies that do offer this benefit generally allocate a certain amount of money from their budgets for employees with student loans.

Here are some examples of high-profile companies that offer student loan repayment benefits:

  • Fidelity Investments offers a $2,000 reimbursement package distributed over five years to employees who pass the six-month mark at the firm. Employees can receive up to $10,000 per borrower towards student loan repayments. So far, more than 9,000 employees have participated in the benefit.
  • Education technology company Chegg disburses up to $5,000 a year to entry-level and manager-level employees in the U.S. for student loan repayment, while more senior employees can receive up to $3,000 annually, funded through selling shares set aside for employees. As a separate benefit, employees can receive up to $1,000 per year in cash for debt repayment.
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers’ student loan paydown plan gives employees the chance to receive $1,200 a year toward student loan debt, up to $10,000. The company says the benefit helps shave up to three years off student loan repayment.
  • Global asset management company Natixis offers workers $1,000 immediately to use toward student loan debt, along with $83.33 per month paid directly to the student loan servicer. The benefit maxes out at $10,000 over a 10-year period, as long as the individual is still an employee during the duration.
  • Aetna offers student loan repayment assistance to employees with eligible loans that meet company guidelines. It will start providing a $2,000 annual match for employee student loan payments, maxing out the benefit at $10,000. To be eligible, employees must work at least 20 hours per week.

Beware the tax consequences of employer student loan repayment

Don’t confuse student loan repayment with tuition reimbursement. Tuition reimbursement is offered to employees who are taking classes while they are working. Under IRS rules, if your employer provides up to $5,250 annually in educational assistance for undergraduate or graduate-level courses, it is tax-deductible.

Student loan repayment is a different story. For now at least, employer student loan repayment is taxable. You’ll need to claim any amount on your tax return if your employer compensates you for your loans, no matter what the company policy or payout is. Considering that it qualifies as taxable, it would technically be closer to a salary bonus than a benefit.

All that may change if the Employer Participation in Repayment Act of 2019, currently working its way through Congress, is passed. The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and in the House by Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), would amend existing tax code to allow employers to give tax-free student loan assistance up to $5,250 a year per employee.

How to make sure you benefit from student loan repayment

While proposed legislation winds its way through Capitol Hill, don’t let tax fears discourage you from participating in an employer-backed student loan assistance program. If you’re concerned that you’ll end up paying more in taxes to the IRS compared with what you’d likely save in student loan payments each month, consider the following:

Tax rates and potential savings depend on your finances

Minimizing the tax hit will depend on several factors, like the interest rate and terms of your student loans, your salary and the structure of your employer’s student loan assistance program. Crunch some numbers to see if you’ll come out ahead of the tax liabilities by receiving student loan benefits from your employer.

Some programs are already tax-free

Some public sector student loan repayment programs are tax-exempt, including the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and other similar loan repayment or forgiveness programs. If you choose a position in a qualifying program or field that already offers loan repayment or forgiveness, then you don’t have to factor employer contributions into your decision-making when accepting a position. With the money you’re saving on loan repayment, you may be able to direct more funds into your retirement savings account.

Refinancing can save you even more

Student loan refinancing can provide borrowers with a lower interest rate, better repayment terms and higher quality service. Combine it with repayment assistance from your employer, and you could come out on top financially. Just remember, once you refinance federal loans, you permanently lose access to the various federal aid programs, such as income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Research potential employers’ student loan repayment policies

When considering potential employers, recent grads are increasingly looking for loan repayment assistance as a benefit. A Student Loan Hero survey found that nearly 39% of students said it was a very important or extremely important benefit. Future employers who reimburse student loans may be ahead of the curve on the tax-savings front.

Some companies have begun partnering with startups like Student Loan Genius, whose student loan 401(k) contribution feature links retirement savings to student loans. With the feature, companies can contribute pretax dollars to an employee’s retirement account each time the employee completes a student loan payment.

Consider your retirement

There’s a less-obvious benefit of working with an employer who will contribute to your student loans: The faster you pay off your student loans, the sooner you can really tackle your retirement contributions.

Next steps

For now, prioritize your student loan payments and weigh the pros and cons between the benefits you’re likely to receive against the taxes you’ll need to pay. A student loan repayment assistance program can help you get a leg up on your finances while also advancing your career. The number of companies offering this benefit is growing, and Student Loan Hero’s tools can help you search for participating employers.

By keeping abreast of emerging companies participating in student loan payment programs, as well as pending legislation, paying off your balance and reducing debt are just a few ways to get your job to work for your loans.

Alli Romano contributed to this report.

The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2020!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.99% – 5.64%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.89% – 5.90%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.25% – 6.09%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.89% – 6.77%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

2.39% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

1.99% – 5.41%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.79% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.64% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of July 31, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 7/31/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

All credit products are subject to credit approval.

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.

As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.

Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.

Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.

KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

This information is current as of September 9, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
 


3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.09% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.09% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.25% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.18% plus 2.32% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. 

4 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of September 10, 2020.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. ‍All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.16% effective August 10, 2020.

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.